Does Al-Ishsal have what it takes to be MCMC chairman?

  • Bold move by Minister Gobind Singh to appoint non bureaucrat as commission head
  • Will new chairman have the backbone to stand up to telcos and not accept excuses


Does Al-Ishsal have what it takes to be MCMC chairman?


THE current government was elected because Malaysians tired of the weak governance and corruption of the incumbent’s six-decade long rule. But along with the promise of cleaner and more accountable government, the new government of the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) also promised to do things better.

It’s too early to tell if Gobind Singh Deo’s choice of Al-Ishsal Ishak , for the powerful position of chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) falls under the better promise but it is certainly a bold and brave move by the Minister of Communications and Multimedia. DNA has learnt that Al-Ishsal will start his tenure as chairman in two weeks time.

For Al-Ishsal (pic, right) does not tick most of the boxes in terms of what former senior MCMC officials say is needed to be a sound and competent chairman of the MCMC. A look at the background of the past six chairmen, shows that all of them were seasoned bureaucrats, with Sharil Tarmizi the fifth chairman being the onlyDoes Al-Ishsal have what it takes to be MCMC chairman? non-bureaucrat but who cut his teeth in the MCMC for six years before being appointed chairman for just over three years, between Oct 2011 to Dec 2014.

Looking at those past chairmen, all came with a combination of deep legal/regulatory background with a compliance mindset. “To varying degrees, all were also familiar with technology and economics and had a sound understanding of the telecoms, broadcast, media industry as well as the postal and courier industry,” notes a former MCMC executive.

On the other hand, Al-Ishsal has eight months experience in the postal and courier industry by virtue of his current stint as Pos Malaysia Bhd CEO and had two stints of 13 months each at Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) Baraka Telecom in 2009 and a Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator (which allows brands to launch their own MVNOs), Enabling Asia, in 2010.

He also had leadership roles in marketing at both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia where both stints were short, at nine months and 11 months respectively.

Not exactly a sterling background to prepare one for the challenges of the chairman role, note some industry observers, including ex-MCMC staff, one of whom warns, “Not being well steeped in the telco industry, especially from the regulatory and economics aspect leaves him at risk of being run circles around by the large telcos.”

Another senior ex-MCMC staffer, well familiar with the way of the telcos, says that they run circles around all, not just the chairman. “That's what they do... they will pass from one telco to another and one excuse to another and then restart again.”

Within the MCMC this telco tactic was known as the “3 Ds” which stand for “Deny” “Delay” and “Degrade”.

While Al-Ishsal does not have the deep domain expertise that past chairmen had, an industry observer feels this is not a critical element of the job as the MCMC itself is staffed with enough expertise to advice Al-Ishsal and bring him up to speed on the key issues.

The key question, according to some former staffers is whether he will have the backbone to stand up to the telcos and not accept their excuses. Can he live up to the responsibility entrusted to him by Gobind to help pave the way for Malaysia to have world-class telecommunications and digital infrastructure, which today are hygiene factors for high value foreign investment. Will the MCMC roll out enabling regulations and framework that will spur cutting edge services and innovation that will propel Malaysian entrepreneurs to build globally competitive digital businesses? And, will it go back to one of the core objectives of its formation, the development of a world-class pool of industry talent.

Creating this world class digital ecosystem may just be the role that Al-Ishsal is best and naturally equipped for, with supporters pointing out that Al-Ishsal’s appointment brings a breath of fresh, untainted, air to the role, coupled with a different mindset. “He is the first non-political appointee to the role and will bring his unique out-of-the box approach to solving challenges,” says a CEO who has known Al-Ishsal for two decades.

Indeed, in his LinkedIN profile, Al-Ishsal describes himself as someone who “thrives in situations where non-conventional thinking is an imperative to address new market entry, competitive threats, team building, cost management, new products and services introduction.”

Al-Ishsal is well versed with the disruption and innovation that the internet triggers, having been one of the pioneers in Malaysia’s first wave of dot-com entrepreneurs in the mid 1990s with his web consulting company called NeuroWeb Technologies. Little known to most, it was NeuroWeb in 1996 that designed the logo for the then called Multimedia Development Corporation, that is still used by MDEC today.

Although NeuroWeb raised funding from a Hong Kong based internet company it eventually folded in 2003, never hitting the heights Al-Ishsal envisioned it could. A year later Al-Ishsal was back, launching, a pioneer multimedia and mobile blogging platform He raised US$1 million for the platform that could be described as an early version of Instagram. That failed after four years.

It was then that he began a series of roles in the telco, marketing and digital space that have led to this current role as MCMC chairman.

Short stints many of these may have been, but all were either senior management or CEO roles which means Al-Ishsal, who by all accounts is extremely sharp and picks up things very quickly, would have had a strong familiarity with the various industries he has been in. Indeed he describes himself as someone who, “relishes the vivid kaleidoscope of new challenges each sector presents”.

But will all this be enough for him to form a vision and have the backbone to see it come to fruition?

“Most importantly, he must be able to put together a long-term plan for the industry. This is a dynamic field and almost every established segment of life is being disrupted. So having a vision for Malaysia in the Digital Economy is going to be crucial going forward,” says a former MCMC staffer. 

Indeed with digital disruption all around us, Malaysia has to embrace the change disruption is causing and seek out the opportunities it brings rather than be fearful of the threats.

The new MCMC chairman must spend most of his time dealing with these disruptive trends while keeping the telcos, celcos and online cos in line. But besides that, “there are politicos who will want to influence policy outcomes for self gain. Hopefully it won’t happen with this government,” notes a former MCMC director. But if interference happens, Al-Ishsal will have to stand firm and steer a course that benefits Malaysia and its citizens and not the business and political elites.

Malaysia’s competitiveness in the fast emerging Digital Economy will depend on its new Communications Minister and MCMC chairman, who lives by the mantra, “Live today as if there is no tomorrow”, in keeping the nation’s interest ahead of all else to ensure Malaysia stands as among the winners in the Digital Economy the world is headed to. 


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